Movie Review ~ Sorry About the Demon

The Facts:

Synopsis: A young man struggling with a broken heart learns that his new place is full of restless spirits.
Stars: Jon Michael Simpson, Jeff McQuitty, Olivia Ducayen, Paige Evans, Dave Peniuk, Sarah Cleveland, Presley Allard, Jude Zappala
Director: Emily Hagins
Rated: NR
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review:  If you’re one of those audience members that tend to bail on movies if they seem a bit iffy at the outset, I’m going to urge you to approach Sorry About the Demon with a little bit of mercy and extra patience. Admittedly, this one has some rough patches throughout, never more so than during its first 20 minutes. Unfortunately, that’s also the most crucial time for a movie to shore up its viewers and keep them watching to the end. I honestly can’t say I would have kept going with the film had I not been reviewing it. I was, and I did, so I’m passing along the good news that this often silly haunted house flick has its heart in the right place, even if it lacks the budget and production values to keep its head on straight.

In those first 20 minutes, we meet the aimless Will (Jon Michael Simpson), a customer service rep for a toothpaste company. He’s broken up with his girlfriend Amy (Paige Evans) and moved into an enormous red brick home the current owners were eager to offload. That’s because the joint is haunted, presided over by two spirits and one nasty demon that’s blackmailed the previous owners into providing a human sacrifice in exchange for their young daughter’s soul. The joke that bubbles up quickly is that the demon takes one look at Will and decides they don’t want him, so it’s up to Will to keep his friends and ex away, lest they be taken over by evil.

A simple premise from writer/director Emily Hagins didn’t need to stretch to 105 minutes, which prevents Sorry About the Demon from feeling well-rounded. It is possible for good movies to be too long! Far too many tonal shifts come across as different short scripts mashed together to make one feature-length film. One moment we’re in a break-up comedy between the hapless Will and stoic Amy, and the next, we’re in an overly serious exorcism thriller presided over by Will’s friend Patrick (Jeff McQuitty) and Will’s blind date (Olivia Ducayen) who coincidently is also named Aimee. It’s not that the actors don’t pull these genres off (the four leads are charming across the board, especially Simpson, who gets better as the hauntings increase), but the script doesn’t always make the connections from one scene to the next.

More than anything, Sorry About the Demon felt like it would have fit right into the stable of features released to VHS by Full Moon Entertainment in the early 1990s. Those who frequented their local video store during that era will surely remember these direct-to-video genre films that were made on a shoestring budget but had a goofy allure to them, making them irresistible. I honestly miss that part of the video rental blitz, finding the horror/sci-fi gems. You’re reminded of those halcyon days biking to the mom-and-pop movie shop when you add in more than a handful of witty one-liners demonstrating Hagins way with a clever (and not overly winky) turn of phrase. Because of that cozy good feeling, I make no apologies in recommending Sorry About the Demon for folks willing to play along.

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Movie Review ~ Alice, Darling

The Facts:

Synopsis: While on vacation with two close girlfriends, Alice rediscovers the essence of herself and gains some much-needed perspective. Slowly, she starts to fray the cords of codependency that bind her.
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Kaniehtiio Horn, Charlie Carrick, Wunmi Mosaku
Director: Mary Nighy
Rated: NR
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review:  From the comfort of a cushioned theater seat (or our well-worn couch), we will watch Alice, Darling and judge the lead character. We’ll see her unhealthy relationship and wonder why she can’t see it herself. Eventually, we will side with her two friends that watch, aghast, as their once-independent companion becomes incapable of separating herself from a controlling lover who may not physically harm her but inflicts psychological turmoil with far more profound consequences. As she pulls her hair out and rolls it into little tumbleweeds that she lets drift slowly to the ground, this coping mechanism will instead seem like barbarous torture to us. All the while, we’ll think we know better.

There’s a frank openness to Alice, Darling that can feel too raw, too invasive. While we may recognize at the outset that it stars an Oscar-winning actress and is purposefully constructed as a barebones examination of a toxic relationship, the deeper it pulls us underneath to gasp for air with our leading lady, the more uncomfortable it starts to feel. It’s easy to believe that we’ve all known an Alice or been an Alice at some point because relating to the preyed upon is natural. What about when the film stealthily, almost wickedly, makes us wonder if we’ve ever been the predator?

Anna Kendrick stars as Alice, and if the actress gets alarmingly under the skin of this character down to the marrow, it’s because she’s self-reported that she was in a relationship with striking similarities. So she knows what the emotional spiral feels/looks like. Alice (Kendrick, Into the Woods) is so tangled up with her artist boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick) that she has to lie to him about going out of town for work instead of telling him she’s off for a weekend at the cabin with her two girlfriends to celebrate the birthday of Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn, Possessor). 

Tess and Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku, His House) already have suspicions about the toxicity brewing between Alice and Simon but want to respect boundaries. Still, Sophie’s bad vibes about Simon began when she met him at an opening of his exhibition, and she recognized tell-tale signs there was something off about the couple when they were together. The weekend’s focus is fun, although a simmering tension between Tess and Alice grows stronger when Tess can’t help but question how Alice has changed since the beginning of her relationship with Simon. Eventually cutting off her lifeline (i.e., Alice’s cellphone) to Simon has the desired effect of freeing up their friend to be present in the moment with them…but it only creates desperation in Simon to find out where Alice has gone.

Director Mary Nighy (daughter of Living’s Bill Nighy) keeps the film as simple as possible, quickly getting out of the Toronto city tension and letting the tranquility of lake life wrap up the three women. The threat of Simon infiltrating this peace hangs over the action because we know it will happen. This isn’t a spoiler; it’s in all the trailers and other marketing. While waiting for him to arrive and what that might bring, Kendrick and the other two actresses explore what it might look like for friends to have that carefully considered conversation/intervention. The script by Alanna Francis is straightforward but respectful, less concerned with wild dramatics than it is with tiny victories in Sophie and Tess helping Alice to open her eyes wider.

The small cast handles the material with a confident hand, led by Kendrick’s revealing portrayal of a woman struggling under the weight of emotions she may not be ready to deal with. It wouldn’t have worked to play the role bigger or even a hair smaller than what she’s doing. That it’s pitched perfectly demonstrates again Kendrick is an actress capable of creating a complex character from the ground up. Alice, Darling likely isn’t loud enough to attract much attention immediately, but word of mouth can help this one get in front of the Alices and Simons that need to see it and understand its significance.

ALICE, DARLING will be exclusively in AMC Theatres

Nationwide January 20, 2023.

Movie Review ~ Living

The Facts:

Synopsis: In 1950s London, a humorless civil servant decides to take time off work to experience life after receiving a grim diagnosis.
Stars: Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Tom Burke, Adrian Rawlins, Oliver Chris, Hubert Burton, Zoe Boyle, Barney Fishwick
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 102 minutes|
TMMM Score: (9.5/10)
Review: It’s the little ones that will surprise you. I’d heard through the critical grapevine that Living, an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 Japanese film Ikiru, was quite exceptional and that its star Bill Nighy could be a potential dark horse in the Best Actor race. Arriving so late in the discussion, it can be difficult for a smaller, quieter film like Living to turn many heads or upend enough ballots to achieve the type of success its supporters predict. And yet… it’s so spectacularly good that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nighy ride a wave of raves to a slot in the Oscar nominations when they are announced next week. 

Adapted from the Kurosawa original by Kazuo Ishiguro (author of The Remains of the Day & Never Let Me Go, both of which were turned into haunting films), the time shifts to London shortly after World War II when professional men lined up for work in bowler hats and stiff collars. These men knew the devastation of war, scarred by years of struggle, and now they largely kept to themselves and their families, rarely engaging outside of their inner circle. 

Such is the life for widower Williams (Nighy, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu), the head of the London Public Works Department overseeing a small staff of gentlemen and one female (Aimee Lou Wood, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain) with ambitions outside of a state job. He’s fallen into a familiar rut of spending little to maintain the bottom line. His son and daughter-in-law have little time for him, so it’s a routine of few surprises he’s following when his doctor gives him a fixed amount of time to live. Initially drawn to keeping his pity party short, he instead takes a different approach to the finality of his time by changing things up in unexpected ways.

Unlike many Oscar hopefuls this year, Living doesn’t hinge on one strong performance. Nighy’s outstanding work is not the only part of Living that makes it a worthwhile watch. Director Oliver Hermanus has surrounded the actor with an equally fine supporting cast and wrapped them up in a handsome production design that gracefully recreates the UK post-WWII. To the credit of all, especially Ishiguro, the film has several surprising detours that keep Living from reaching its destination the way you’d expect it to.

It all comes back to Nighy, though, and while the actor is a dependable presence in every project he turns up in, this falls on a different level of achievement. The layers Nighy has to put on at the film’s beginning, only to pull back slowly and painfully, are a wonder to behold. If you can make it through the actor singing a plaintive Scottish song (twice!) without choking back tears, you are made of stronger stuff than I am. Hermanus allows Nighy’s character, who never takes up too much space, to have center stage, and it’s as moving a movie moment as you’re likely to experience anywhere. 

I don’t want you to walk away from this review thinking Living is a sad slog, though, because that would betray the point of the Kurosawa original and what Ishiguro/Hermanus are doing with this remake. There’s a focus on pointing out what a stodgy routine can do to a soul and how making a slight shift can improve your view and the way others see you. We’re put on this earth to celebrate the good, love fiercely, and live our best life while we are able before it’s too late. I can’t imagine any other actor being able to convey this story as well as Nighy has, and his performance in Living should be rewarded in turn.